Photo Title : Short Takes - Horger Knight - Front  |  close this window


A gourd banjo enthusiast, Chris Brooks, sent me this:

I found your website today and noticed the write up on Horger Knight. I was, in fact, holding my Horger Knight gourd banjo while surfing. You said on the site you would like to know more about him. I teach a Shaker box making class at the John C Campbell Folk School. I learned to make the boxes there in 1992. I was also inspired to learn clawhammer banjo that year as well. We visited Horger's shop as an afternoon activity when I was in the box making class. Horger lived not far from the school in a modest mountainside home with his wife Suzanne. Across the front of the house was something like an enclosed porch where Horger built Dulcimers. It was well lit and very neat. You would be hard pressed to find a speck of sawdust in the shop even though it was dominated by a Ryobi resaw bandsaw used for cutting thin material for the dulcimers. Horger (pronounced Her ger) was a native of South Carolina and had been a Methodist Minister, a family counselor and a Dentist prior to moving to Brasstown, NC to build dulcimers. He said he wished he had tried dulcimers first! Horger performed one morning per week at the folk school's Morningsong program, starting the day out for the students before breakfast. He was a great storyteller.

Around 1994 during another week long sojourn at the school we visited his shop again and he had just started experimenting with gourd banjos. Horger had been building very nice old-time open back banjos for a while I think. One day I asked him if he would build one for me if I brought him the gourd. He had told us before that just the right gourds were hard to find. I work at the Atlanta History Center and we grow gourds at our 1840s farmstead, the Tullie Smith Farm. I took Horger the gourd and asked Suzanne to decorate it with a rattlesnake, since the snake is prevalent in Southern folklore and folk art. They must have finished the banjo in 1996. I don't remember the exact year I received it. Suzanne told me mine was the first with a snake and several folks later requested a snake after seeing mine in progress.

Shortly after he finished the banjo he was diagnosed with cancer. I don't think he made too many more gourd banjos after mine. I don't know how many instruments he made total. I have some friends in Atlanta who bought a wonderful courting dulcimer from him. His dulcimers featured Job's tears for fine tuners and a carved eagle head or celtic knot peghead. These may have been options and not found on all instruments. He made some very nice open back banjos in the Tubaphone or White Laydie (heavy pots, nice inlay) style. He also made some open backs with a sitka spruce head--sort of a "different" mountain banjo. If I remember correctly, Horger died in November of '97. His wife Suzanne still lives in Brasstown and has remarried.

Chris Brooks, March 2004